Switzerland, the United States, and the Cayman Islands are the world’s biggest contributors to financial secrecy, according to the latest edition of the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index.
2018 is shaping up to be the year that the abuse of Anonymous shell companies is finally put to an end in the United States. Last week, the Senate Banking Committee held their second hearing of the month, and, just like the first hearing, the witnesses urged members to take action on anonymous companies. One of the witnesses, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General M. Kendall Day, repeatedly called on lawmakers to tackle beneficial ownership requirements, adding that it would allow them to “bring more cases, more quickly, with more impact if we had a better system in place to make that information available to law enforcement.” Pressed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) the second witness, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes Sigal Mandelker, responded that they were studying the issue carefully and hoped to have recommendations within 6-months.
As the United States Congress considers drastically altering its tax code, my organization — the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) — has brought the spiraling human rights costs of the proposed U.S. tax cuts to the attention of a leading UN human rights official visiting the U.S. to look into poverty in the country.
On Dec. 1 – the morning before the U.S. Senate rushed through a lopsided and dysfunctional tax plan to unfairly benefit the top tiers of the economy while costing ordinary people within and outside the U.S. dearly — the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston launched his official visit to the US to investigate the links between the growing phenomenon of poverty and human rights deprivations there.
In advance of his visit, we made a formal submission entitled Fiscal Impoverishment in the United States, warning that the Republican-backed tax plans would only deepen poverty and inequality within the U.S., while also enabling transnational tax abuse and undermining the ability of countries around the world to invest in human rights.
A year and a half after the release of the Panama Papers, a new set of data leaks, the Paradise Papers released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) provides important new information on the tax dodging of wealthy individuals as well as multinational corporations.
The leaked data, about 13.4 million files in total, exposes the tax avoidance schemes and strategies of wealthy and powerful individuals, as well as large corporations. More than 7 million of the files were obtained from the offshore law firm Appleby. The 119-year-old firm is a leading member of the global network of lawyers, accountants, bankers and other operatives who set up and manage offshore companies and bank accounts for clients who want to avoid taxes or keep their finances under wraps.
It is no secret that corporations like Nike and Apple are holding billions of dollars offshore for tax avoidance purposes, but the Paradise Papers give us a deeper look into what these tax avoidance schemes look like, and show that Apple’s leadership has aggressively moved to reinvent these schemes while simultaneously proclaiming their innocence.
The release of the Paradise Papers has once again brought the issue of offshore tax avoidance to the forefront of public discussion. The papers expose the complex structures that companies such as Apple and Nike have pursued in recent years to pay little to nothing in taxes on their offshore earnings.
Yet even as these revelations make headlines, House Republicans are moving forward with major tax legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that would reward the worst tax avoiders and make it even easier for multinational companies to avoid taxes.
Our tax system is fundamental to our democracy, delineating who pays the costs of a functioning civilization. But the system is broken, leaving an undeniable imbalance between the working and middle-classes and the wealthy and multinational companies. It would seem to follow then that the focus of tax reform should be around correcting this imbalance by targeting those that have gamed the system and flagrantly avoided taxation. Yet, the priority for Congress and the administration seems to be to exacerbate tax avoidance with greater incentives for shifting profits offshore.
There is currently $2.6 trillion booked offshore — untaxed — by multinational companies. This is the result of a gaping loophole for multinationals known as deferral, where a company can delay paying taxes until the profits are “repatriated” to the U.S. The administration has frequently cited this number as a reason our tax code needs “reform,” and, on that point, there is broad agreement. Our tax system undoubtedly needs reform, though, their solution—to simply not tax offshore profits—misses the point.